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Combat Pragmatist / Comic Books

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Look Behind You - SPLAT! Never mind.

  • Batman is the DC's poster boy for this trope.
    Huntress: Did I just see you cheating?
    Batman: Winning.
    • He does have two rules: no guns, no killing. Everything else is fair game.
    • Alfred Pennyworth became this as the series progressed, as the guy was a former S.A.S. soldier. And he has helped Bruce solve cases, invent new tech, heal his (both personal and Bruce's) own wounds, and managed to fight off thugs that would typically be more physically fit than him, as well as carrying extremely powerful firearms, with his bare hands!! Though, he wishes to remain a harmless butler. It also says a lot about Alfred and how much Bruce likes him (even if he doesn't say it) that Alfred is the only member of the Bat-Family that consistently decides to carry a gun and Batman doesn't give him crap.
    • Being this kind of character is half the reason The Joker can threaten Batman toe-to-toe; the other half is his enthusiasm in combat.
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  • The fight between Namor and Aquaman in Marvel Versus DC, as seen in the Trope Image.
  • Rorschach from Watchmen: He uses several household items to give himself a chance to get away. To wit, he improvises a flamethrower with hairspray and a match as he flees upstairs, on the basis that people are reluctant to chase a psycho up a burning staircase. The first person up the stairs after him gets a handful of black pepper thrown directly into his eyes and his floundering gives Rorschach the time to draw his last weapon—his compressed-air-powered grappling-hook gun,
    • In the video game Watchmen: The End Is Nigh, you can control Rorschach in battle. He's not nearly as skilled a fighter as Nite Owl (who uses an adapted form of martial arts), but he makes up for it with absolutely devastating strikes, and freely uses weapons, such as nightsticks, bottles, knives and crowbars, which Nite Owl refuses to do.
    • Ozymandias fights dirty too. It's not immediately obvious, but he's perfectly willing to take advantage of any psychological weaknesses his opponent has and uses the environment for his own benefit. Of course, with him, what looks like an Improvised Weapon was probably specifically placed right there hours ago.
      • During his final confrontation with Rorschach he pulls his mask across his face to gain advantage. And people keep on harping about Dollar Bill's cape...
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  • Nightwing, despite being a Technical Pacifist, does this with acrobatic flair. He basically fights like Batman with a sense of humor: nose tweaks, groin kicks, and distractions in the form of ass smacks are not outside of his domain.
  • The Flash. Being a single power Super Hero, he has learned how to use his super speed in resourceful ways, including Rapid-Fire Fisticuffs, Tornado Moves, and the like. Hell, he even once utilized Oliver Queen's super spicy chili as a weapon against Captain Cold. Pragmatism indeed!!
  • There is not a force on Earth that can get The Punisher to fight fair.
    • Lampshaded in an issue from the "Welcome Back, Frank" storyline of the early 2000's-
      When you're on your own, behind enemy lines, no artillery, no air strikes, no hope of an evac, you don't fight dirty. You do things that make dirty look good.
    • Another example: Frank is chased by an enemy that is The Gunslinger and capable of dodging bullets. Frank's solution when he has to face off against him? Break out a machine gun, betting that his enemy doesn't has the speed to dodge a barrage fired at 850 Rounds Per Minute. He doesn't.
  • Vick "The Rain" from 100 Bullets is not above fighting dirty and will even use his own allies as human shields.
  • Much of the G.I. Joe comic books involves this trope. Around issue #75, Tunnel-Rat emerges from a well, tunnel and mows down about ten Cobra soldiers from behind. An issue of Special Missions has one Joe save another by simply beating the hell out of a captured CIA prisoner for needed intelligence.
    • Despite being better known to the casual fan for his ninja ways, never forget that Snake-Eyes is an Army Ranger, and is more than happy to go for the grenades or machine gun as a ninja armed with melee weapons advances.
  • Cerebus, being a veteran mercenary, knows better than to fight fair. Early in the series, he was face-to-face with a rebel mastermind and as his opponent strode out onto a bridge, finally revealing his identity, Cerebus heaved a rock at his head, causing him to stumble off the bridge to his death. Afterward, this exchange took place:
    Lord Julius: That wasn't exactly fair, was it? I mean, he thought you were going to fight to the death with swords!
    Cerebus: He is dead and Cerebus is alive... You can't get much fairer than that.
  • Throughout his adventures, Corto Maltese does his share of kicking people in the nuts and shooting them in the back.
  • In the final issue of Tim Drake's Robin series, he's forced to fight Lady Shiva. Tim knows that he's hugely outmatched, so he poisons her food two days before the fight with a heart-rate dependent neurotoxin.
  • The following exchange from a comic where Deadpool and one of the forgettable 90s X-Teams are facing a villain who can dampen mutant abilities:
    Mutant Super Hero: All right, just because our powers don't work, doesn't mean we're helpless. We should engage him one-on one in hand to hand combat with our strongest fighters going first until he drops.
    Deadpool: Or, hear me out here, or—
    We could do that.
    Mutant Super Hero: You murdered him!
    • Backfired once when Deadpool fought Kraven by using guns on him. Kraven decides that if Deadpool wants to cheat so will he and uses a laser on him.
  • Common for any protagonist created by Warren Ellis.
    • Desolation Jones has the titular character lampshade his status as as a combat pragmatist. When attacked by a fearsome S&M clad bodyguard, Jones explains that the combatant who wins isn't the strongest but the one who cares the least for holding anything back. The sickly old man then stabs his finger into the charging guard's eye socket and pulls him skull first into a wall, knocking him unconscious. He also makes liberal use of the Groin Attack.
    • In Planetary, Elijah Snow's favorite combat maneuver is the Groin Attack, which he once pulled on Dracula himself. Combined with his powers, this means his opponents' laps tend to shatter.
    • In Transmetropolitan, Spider Jerusalem tends to make liberal use of his handy bowel disruptor, but isn't above pulling out a real gun if it comes down to it - or, of course, a Groin Attack.
  • Jesse Custer from Preacher may want to be the good guy, but he will never fight any way but dirty. The man really loves his Groin Attacks, right up there with getting in the first shot or using the environment to his advantage.
  • John Constantine the Hellblazer is a dirty fighter, no matter how much he denies it. He's strong enough to fight a bar full of hooligans, but will keep in mind anything his hands can reach, such as bottles and chairs. Heck, he even once used a handful of wheat grain (yes, the thing in your cereals) to knockout a robber.
  • Iron First once went up against the Wrecking Crew, a team of superpowered baddies who each have the power of an Asgardian god. Iron Fist, when he's not using his trademark superpower, is basically just a highly skilled martial artist. The following exchange took place:
    Piledriver: You is just one super-punk and you're a skinny one at that! How you gonna hurt me?
    Iron Fist: There are ways. (Slams his hands over Piledriver's ears. Piledriver collapses in pain)
    Thunderball: Smart move, hero. That was probably the only way you could have hurt him.
  • Parodied in Asterix in Britain. The Romans, observing that the British take a regular break every afternoon to have tea, decide to attack at tea-time.
  • Bullseye once used his own tooth to kill a man. The tooth was spit from his mouth and went through the guy's skull. He's even considering using his own feces as a weapon. Ugh!
  • Moon Knight is more than happy to use truncheons, knives and a spiked steel cestus in the fight for justice.
  • Spider-Man has been known to fight this way, using his webs to blind/restrain his enemies as well as finding all sorts of ways to humiliate them, specifically so they'll get angry and make mistakes. In the Ultimate series, he even gave Ox a wedgie. Having been bullied in school, Spidey was of course, very ashamed of himself.
  • Nikolai Dante is frequently described as the dirtiest fighter in the empire. For example, Nikolai (a Badass Normal at this point) fights Konstantin Romanov, a man with powers that effectively make him a walking nuke, for the right to be Tsar. At the beginning of the fight, Konstantin mentions that he should have shot him when he had the chance. Instead, Nikolai waits for the custom virus he released into the arena to take hold, disabling Konstantin's fusion powers. He taunts and dodges powerless Konstantin for the next few minutes, and only shoots him just before his powers come back. Dirtiest fighter, indeed.
  • This page of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.
  • Marv from Sin City is physically capable of handling most opponents in battle but often uses whatever he can get his hands on simply because he's that damn crazy. Case in point: using a nearby hatchet to shove into a Killer Cop's groin.
  • Lusiphur, the protagonist of Poison Elves, almost never fights cleanly if he can help it. He isn't above such tricks as pretending to beg for mercy in order to get the jump on a superior opponent.
  • 2011 DC Universe reboot: Hal Jordan starts boasting to Batman that with his ring, he can easily take down Superman. By the time Batman blinks, Superman has Flash Stepped up to Hal and punched him out. Later in that same story, Hal finally figures out that Batman has no super-powers and begins immediately pointing out how absurd it is for a normal human to be in the situations the Justice League finds themselves in. Mid-way through his rant Batman pickpockets his ring.
  • In ElfQuest when the Wolfriders are attacked without warning by Guttlekraw's trolls:
    There is no fairness, no grace, no nobility in the Wolfriders' method of combat. They obey but one rule: survive by any means, no matter how cruel or bloody.
  • Anathos from Les Légendaires, despite being more than capable of defeating practically everyone without cheating (he once stopped Jadina's punch with one finger), will gladly make use of this trope if it makes things more practical. His duel with Darkhell's and Elysio's fusion is the most egregious example:
    Darkhell / Elysio: It seems our forces still are equal in a fair fight.
    Anathos: Who talked about a fair fight? (backstabs him with his flying sword)
    • Surprisingly subverted later in the story, where, after finding out the Legendaries are trying to ambush him, he intends to have his minions confront them rather than go fighting himself, but Calende shows up and advises him not to do so, commenting that it will result in him being remembered as a coward. As a result, he follows her advice and go to fight them in person with his Hellions.
  • Many of Marvel's heavy hitters such as The Hulk, The Thing, etc. will use whatever is available when goaded into a fight.
    • These heavy hitters sometimes also have to use their strength in creative ways on those rare occasions when they're facing someone with even more raw power than them. In the Future Imperfect one-shot The Incredible Hulk was outclassed by the Maestro, his Evil Counterpart. The good Hulk evened the odds first by hitting the Maestro with a blatant Groin Attack, then by throwing Captain America's shield into his chest (the shield is unbreakable, but Cap wasn't strong enough to throw it hard enough to injure the Maestro) and eventually using Doctor Doom's time machine to transport the Maestro to ground zero of the same gamma explosion that gave Bruce Banner his powers, vaporizing the Maestro on the spot.
  • Despite having dangerous mutant powers and being trained extensively as a martial artist and staff fighter, Gambit will often cheat in his fights anyway. Perhaps one of his most epic examples is when X-Cutioner had Gambit trapped and both his arms immobilised so he couldn’t be use his power, Gambit untroubled just used he gum he was chewing to blast X-Cutioner in the face.
  • The Mark Shaw version of Manhunter preferred to avoid even the fighting part. In his first comic, he ambushed Dr Alchemy after taking advantage of his fondness of redheads with 'balconies you could do Shakespeare off of'. Another time, he waited till The Penguin was in the bath.
  • Starting in Wonder Woman (2011) Wonder Woman does not feel bound to Thou Shall Not Kill, and so feels perfectly free to use deadly force if the situation calls for it. Some writers gave her hints of this characterization as early as Wonder Woman (1987).
    • Hints nothing. The Perez reboot flat out stated that while the Amazons are actually peace lovers, they are still fighters and will not hesitate to use lethal force if the situation demands it. Many a villain found this out the hard way over the years including Max Lord.
  • The Fables, in the series of that name, are often quite pragmatic. In the first issue, Bluebeard tells Cinderella, during a fencing lesson, that "we train with real swords for real battles." And when Geppetto challenges them, they are quite willing to use modern technology combined with magic to defend Fabletown from his forces, and then to turn the battle against him. Finally, when Snow White calls Prince Brandish out for a sword duel, she takes a moment to kick off her high-heeled shoes, opting to fight in bare feet, unlike many women in comics.
  • Society of Super-Heroes: Conquerors of the Counter-World #1:
    • Lady Shiva goes on about how the Blackhawk Squadron will never even realize she's cut them up and butchered them by the time she's done with them, when they decide to just shoot Shiva as she's gloating.
    • When Doc Fate meets his counterpart Felix Faust, Faust attempts to pull a magical duel. Fate just kicks him in his balls.
  • Superman:
    • Kryptonian heroes often hold back. Particularly Superman tries to fight 'fair' in order to provide a good example... but in a tough situation they will start to use their powers in many, many creative and nasty ways.
    • For instance, a Post-Crisis story had him facing a dire threat and Metallo was standing in his way for a fight. Superman contemptuously responds he has no time to deal with the cyborg twerp and simply blasts limbs off with his heat vision until he is a pile of limbs and moves on.
    • Getting Clark or Kara upset or angry is another way to encourage their "creativity". In Action Comics #775 "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, & the American Way?" Superman shows a team of murderous anti-heroes that would happen if he embraced their methods and went all out. It's not pretty.
    • In Post-Crisis story Way of the World, Supergirl comes upon Clayface. Kara lets him have a couple of blows before showing him she isn't giving him a fair fight by freezing him solid, flying him to the edge of the atmosphere and letting go.
      Supergirl: I'm sorry, but you seem confused. Just 'cuz I let you land a few easy blows— that doesn't mean we're having a fair fight!
    • A few issues later, Silver Banshee challenges Kara. Kara drops a truck on Banshee.
    • In Many Happy Returns, second-rate villain Rebel looks forward to fight Supergirl... until Kara warns him that she's mad enough right now that she'll destroy him before he can blink if he bothers her.
      Supergirl: Look — Here's the problem. You've done some bad things, but I'm really, really upset right now. So much so that, honestly, I don't trust myself. And if you attack me or I attack you... I will hurt you. I'll hurt you worse than you've ever been hurt in your whole life. I can carve you up as soon as look at you. I can break you, boil you, freeze you. I can do things you can't imagine. Things I can't imagine, until I have to. And then I'll improvise. Part of me is hoping you will attack. And part of me is praying — for your sake, and my own peace of mind — that you don't. It's up to you.
    • Red Daughter of Krypton: Unsurprisingly, becoming a Red Lantern doesn't make Supergirl less reluctant to fight dirty. When she figures out the Diasporans can breathe in space, she smashes through their space ships. When she's fighting a ruthless and powerful alien parasite Kara resorts to every kind of underhanded tactics such like letting him bonding with her and then poisoning herself or tricking him into throwing her into the Sun.
    • In The Supergirl from Krypton, Superman comes up with a complex plan to guarantee that Darkseid leaves his cousin alone which includes Supergirl faking her death in order to make Superman go berserk.
    • In a Power Girl issue, villain Satanna replaces Kara's friend Terra's brain with Ultra-Humanite's. When a severely unhappy Power Girl barges into her lair, Satanna starts gloating and stops when Power Girl -who isn't in the mood- blasts her arm off and demands Terra's brain back.
  • In the beginning of the story The Return of Bruce Wayne, Bruce Wayne gets stranded in the time of the cavemen and is eventually captured by a tribe led by Vandal Savage. They intend to eat him, but wanting some entertainment, Vandal challenges Bruce to a duel, but cheats by first ordering his men to cut Bruce several times and then leave him tied up on the muddy ground overnight, reasoning that even if he survives, the blood loss, hunger, and infections will leave him too weak to fight (the tribe allows this because they want Bruce to lose, and praise Vandal for being smart). Fortunately, a young boy (who wears face paint that resembles Robin's mask) from a rival tribe frees Bruce and returns his utility belt, which happens to have antibiotics. While escaping, Bruce is able to defeat the tribesmen and Savage himself.
  • While still a skilled martial artist, Huntress is nowhere near top-tier, and supplements her fighting style with these sorts of tactics, from improvised weapons to crotch shots. If the situation is dire enough, she'll just fill her opponent with crossbow bolts rather than get into hand-to-hand combat.
  • Pretty much every member of the Suicide Squad is a Combat Pragamatist, and most line ups of team (its membership changed a lot) used a combination of guile, weaponry and martial arts in preference to actual superpowers. In fact, most of the characters who died in the series were the ones least able to fight this way. There are a few standouts though:
    • Deadshot was once challenged to a duel by a fellow assassin, who established that they would draw on the count of three. Deadshot shoots her dead right after she says "one".
    Deadshot: Take the shot you got, lady.
    • Count Vertigo once stabbed an opponent in the back with that opponent's own knife, and proceeded to taunt him about making sure of his kills.
  • General Ching, the token Chinese Communist member of the Exiles, minor allies of the Red Skull nobody really liked, attempted to be this. His evil plan to kill Captain America? Shoot him in the back. Unfortunately for him, but very fortunately for Cap, the Skull was going through a period of Bond Villain Stupidity and stopped him.
  • Used by Gail Simone to justify Red Sonja's chainmail bikini: her near-nudity is distracting to male opponents and she has unmatched freedom of movement in most skirmishes. She dons full armor when it's appropriate, such as when leading an army or duelling Dark Annisia.
  • Vampirella once encountered a unit of American Civil War era vampires who vastly outnumbered her and had almost two centuries worth of fighting experience. Fortunately, Vampirella had seen fit to bring a priest with her to bless the rain transforming it into holy water. Since Vampirella was immune to traditional vampire weaknesses the rain had no effect on her but the other vampires weren't safe.
  • Strontium Dog: Most Strontium Dogs, being bounty hunters and/or guerilla veterans, are spectacularly dirty fighters. Series protagonist Johnny Alpha thinks nothing of using knuckledusters, booby traps, ambush tactics and high-yield explosives.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (IDW): Dr. Starline completely lacks the arrogance and pettiness of his idol, Dr. Eggman. When he first comes up against Sonic, he actively tries to avoid fighting them, knowing full well that Eggman mainly loses because Sonic is just that good. Once his traps and misdirections fail, Starline just uses the Warp Topaz to teleport Sonic several miles away, and its only when that fails to get Sonic off his back (Starline knew Sonic was fast, but not how fast) that he tries directly fighting him. Even then, he shows keen awareness of his Squishy Wizard status and spends much of the battle doing everything he can to ensure Sonic doesn't land a hit.


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